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The Colombian government is bent on either co-opting the trade union movement or destroying it, said union leader Luis Hernan Correa Miranda while visiting National President Paul Moist on June 3.

“Collective bargaining is disappearing from Colombia,” Miranda told Moist. “The government will not rest until there are no trade unions.” A vice-president of the CUT, the central labour body in Colombia, Miranda offered as evidence the labour ministry’s rejection of 200 certification applications in the past two years. The CUT has had its membership halved since it formed in 1986.

The government has also allowed paramilitary death squads to target trade unionists. Twenty-six trade unionists have been murdered this year alone, he said, and the strategy of the government-supported paramilitary death squads has changed.

The recent murders have been stabbings. Normally the paramilitaries use guns, but this change is a way to avoid being detected for targeting unionists, Miranda added. He says the CUT executive have all received death threats in the past six weeks. He has also suffered tragic personal losses at the hands of the death squads.

Moist and Miranda also discussed workplace health and safety issues. Especially shocking are the appalling working conditions in the flower industry were the 90,000 mostly women workers face horrific exploitation. Most are unable to continue working after age 28, Miranda said. Many will die by age 40.

A guest of the Canadian Labour Congress, Miranda also lobbied politicians in Ottawa to stop Canada-Colombia free trade negotiations. The CLC, CUPE and other public sector unions have repeatedly called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the talks because of Colombia’s murderous human rights record.

During the meeting, Moist committed CUPE to continue to press the Canadian government to not enter into a free trade agreement with Columbia.

CUPE will continue to work in solidarity with the free trade union movement in Columbia through projects, exchanges and advocacy efforts,” Moist told Miranda. “We cannot rest until the killing of innocent workers and trade union leaders stops in Columbia.”